Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5 (world building, creativity, characters)
Enjoyment Rating: 2 stars
No. Eating. Pixies.
At the annual Global Lijun Alliance conference in Tokyo, Tally Bastille makes the first impulsive decision of his life. Others perceive his uktena—the enormous legendary serpent that’s his dual-spirit—as a threat, which makes him all too aware that he frightens fellow lijun. But an encounter with a passionate, obviously not-straight otter lijun one evening convinces Tally that he’s found his Em’halafi, his destined match. Tally is determined to barrel through all obstacles to make the match happen, including the otter’s conservative, traditional family.
Trained as a Satislit—a bride-son—Haru Tanaka chafes at the strict boundaries set around their life. They rebel against their clan’s constant attempts to force an arranged match and wish desperately for someone who will love them. At the conference, Haru is horrified to learn their family has accepted an offer for them, one too lucrative for the clan to refuse. Not only has the Urusar sold Haru to a stranger, but the lijun is also a giant snake and one who believes in the tired old superstitions regarding Em’halafi. Threatened with banishment if they refuse, Haru has no choice but to marry the wealthy American serpent.
Back in Tally’s home in Wisconsin, Haru and Tally must navigate both the widening gulf between them as they realize how much they’ve misunderstood about each other, and the tricky politics of the lijun clan Tally leads. Murder, intrigue and increasing hostility threaten to tear apart the little town of Wadiswan and the arranged marriage they’ve barely managed to begin.
I have been debating over how to write this review since I finished this story. And honestly I’m still not sure how this review is going to turn out.
Never have I been more conflicted about a novel than I am about Fireworks and Stolen Kisses (Lijun #1) by Angel Martinez and Freddy MacKay. First its written by two of my all time favorite authors and bears many of the elements that makes them so.
First of all there is the world building. Its highly imaginative, working mythology, natural history, and various cultures into a rich tapestry upon which they weave their story. Native American and Japanese cultures are highlighted to an impressive degree right down to the clothing different individuals will wear at various times. The research done and the manner in which all the details are woven into this story is absolutely wonderful. I found myself enchanted by detail after detail.
I loved the idea of the two spirits, the Lijun, the name of the series. The way this is brought to life with many species here, not just otter and snake, but some adorable opossums too is truly heartwarming and for me the best part of the story. They kept me coming back truthfully when I often wanted just to put the book down.
Angel Martines and Freddy MacKay’s ability to create characters (fantastical or otherwise) that jump off the page, alive and breathing, is without doubt, one of the major reasons I love them so. I remember their characters, their worlds, and what happens to them. I go through it with them, emotionally every step of the way.
As I did here. Unfortunately.
I’m not sure what I thought I was getting into with this story. The first few pages sparkled with a lighthearted delight, lovely, intriguing as we met both Tally and got glimpses of Haru as they led children on a great desert battle. I was captivated by both Tally’s charm and Haru’s drunken kindness with the children.
What a great start! Then with one false move Tally, Haru, and frankly, the story, took a dive that it never pulled out of. Not even until 90 percent when it looked like Tally and Haru might find a way to make things work. That’s right not until you reach 90 percent finished.
Until then it’s almost stomach churning in the constant refrain from Haru of “he bought me, he owns me, I’m stuck, etc”. With no attempt to talk to Tally who has no idea Haru feels this way at all. Tally who feels that he’s married his soulmate and thinks Haru feels the same about him. And while at first you feel sympathetic towards Haru, that starts to chip way…faster than you might think. He’s befriended by an otter, one who will bear their children, feels comfortable enough to have sex with this otter before the marriage ceremony, and yet doesn’t believe them when they tell Haru they are safe and within a wonderful environment. Especially when Haru is shown that over and over, and Tally asks them to communicate. Instead Haru remains tightly within their established emotional and cultural boundaries without making any attempt to step outside, even given amble evidence things aren’t as “black and white” as Haru thinks. On one hand Haru seems to be one individual, all rainbow suspenders and modern, and another so held by culture that they are totally victimized by their situation. Its a dichotomy not resolved by this story in my opinion, even if planned that way.
On one hand it’s an interesting argument of “What would happen if the mating bond is one sided” sort of thing. It’s also a look at an arranged marriage with a species twist on it. But does it make for romantic or happy reading? No. Its as pleasant you might think listening to someone’s refrain of “he owns me, he bought me, I’m stuck, I’m in prison”. etc. Its non stop yet they do little to communicate to the person their true feelings when given the chance. Haru says they grew up accepting this would be their fate and yet their treatment of Tally is anything but. Somehow it’s forgotten that Tally is also a victim here along with Haru. He believes strongly that Haru is his soulmate and thought Haru would feel the instant attraction he felt. That caused he to act with the disastrous results.
In so many scenes I just put my Kindle down or switched to another story because I needed a break from the nastiness this was leaving with me. I ended up reading with an Excedrin bottle next to me. Still, the story is beautifully written for all that.
And there’s a murder mystery too but with everything else going on, I barely noticed.
At around 88 to 90 percent, Tally and Haru finally talked, lightbulbs went on and they looked to salvage something of their marriage. I was exhausted. And more than ready to move on too.
This is the first in a series. I’m flummoxed as to what to tell you. About the book or series. I’ll leave it up to you. I’m still divided.
Cover art is exquisite. Exactly how I would have picture them both.
ebook, 1st edition, 246 pages
Published June 26th 2018 by Pride Publishing